Patterns of Seasonal Variation in Diet, Abundance, and Movement of the Scarlet Macaw (Ara Macao) in Southern Belize

Mark McReynolds (2012)

This study was conducted in 2008 and 2009 to determine if Scarlet Macaws (Ara macao), in subtropical southern Belize, Central America, are seasonal and elevational migrants and if their movement is influenced by seasonally abundant food. Reports from southern Belize indicated strongly seasonal sightings of macaws (N ≈ 200) in two separate areas of considerable difference in elevation. I monitored plant phenology plots (2 m x 500 m) in low (N = 6) and high (N = 6) elevation areas for a year to compare fruit abundance with macaw sightings in point counts on the plots and nearby. My point count data and historical sightings indicate strongly seasonal patterns of macaw movement between the low eastern foothills of the Maya Mountains, notably at Red Bank Village, and the higher Chiquibul area to the west, over the Maya Mountains. Other researchers have recorded macaw flights over the Maya Mountains. In the Chiquibul, their high-elevation breeding grounds, my sightings of macaws occurred year-round, but dropped at the beginning of the breeding season in January. At that time, sightings of likely non-breeders rose in low-elevation areas, peaking in February and March with abundant Sloanea tuerckheimii, Pera arborea, and Xylopia frutescens. At that elevation, no macaws were sighted from April through November. At Red Bank, ripe X. frutescens was strongly correlated with Scarlet Macaws; the abundance of both dropped to zero by April. Fruit availability peaked in the Chiquibul in May, whereas macaw sightings peaked in June and dropped in July; low numbers of macaws were sighted in August, September, and October. I reviewed the natural history of Scarlet Macaws in Belize and determined that they have a generalist diet, numerous natural limiting factors, and limited populations and distribution due to habitat destruction and the pet trade. In response, I am advocating for anti-poaching efforts and new protected areas in Belize....

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